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September 13, 2017

After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.

The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.

In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.

Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.

UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber

10:58 p.m.

Early party primary debates are all about shaking out the differences between the candidates. Perhaps no question did that more starkly on Wednesday night than an inquiry about the biggest geopolitical threat to America. Democrats couldn't agree on an answer, with the 10 candidates giving replies all across the board — and globe.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, and Julián Castro all gave "China" as all or part of their answers. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren both answered "climate change," which was also given a nod by Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Nuclear weapons were mentioned by Delaney, Booker, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio named Russia. Klobuchar also named Iran as one of her concerns.

But perhaps the biggest applause of all went to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for his answer:

Watch the full range of answers below. Jeva Lange

10:53 p.m.

Julián Castro is having a moment.

During Wednesday's 2020 Democratic debates, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary got an early applause line in when he was asked about closing the gender pay gap. Castro responded by saying he'd pass the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment — and quickly shot up 2,400 percent in Google search interest since the debates began, Google Trends reported. The Equal Rights Amendment, meanwhile, saw search interest spike 800 percent.

Castro's Google triumph should come with a grain of salt, seeing as he wasn't getting a ton of searches to begin with. In the week leading up to the debates, he wasn't even among the top half of Wednesday candidates in terms of Google searches. Castro was the top searched candidate in barely a handful of counties around the U.S. as well, Google Trends showed.

Of course, no candidate stacks up to pizza. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:37 p.m.

Let chaos reign.

With 10 candidates trying to answer detailed questions in a limited amount of time, Wednesday's Democratic debate in Miami was bound to have a few hiccups. Things got even more complicated when NBC had to cut to break unexpectedly just as the event's second hour was about to get rolling because of microphone and audio issues.

While the technical difficulties might seem like a metaphor for the overcrowded Democratic race, its not without precedent. In 1976, President Gerald Ford and his Democratic challenger Jimmy Carer had to stop their general election debate when the sound cut out. That pause lasted a lot longer than this one, too.

President Trump, at least, was stirred from his boredom by the mishap. Tim O'Donnell

10:07 p.m.

Hablas español? Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker do, and they put it to full use on Wednesday night, with O'Rourke even receiving a question from Telemundo anchor and debate moderator José Diaz-Balart in Spanish.

At least a few of Thursday night's crop of Democrats were watching and taking note — and, presumably, hastily downloading Duolingo.

One Thursday candidate likely wasn't sweating it, though: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who speaks Spanish in addition to Norwegian, French, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, and Dari. Jeva Lange

9:53 p.m.

President Trump is not entertained.

As 2020 Democrats debated on Wednesday night, Trump, who had previously promised to live-tweet the debates, stayed uncharacteristically silent. That's apparently because, as he tweeted 35 minutes into the debates, it was "BORING!"

Trump's one-word tweet came as Democrats onstage discussed the stunning photo of a migrant father and daughter who died while crossing the Rio Grande. Beto O'Rourke, who broke into Spanish during the discussion, tweeted earlier that Trump is "responsible" for their deaths. The photo came as a visceral reminder of the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:53 p.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made her stance on health care policy very clear during Wednesday's Democratic primary debate.

When the 10 candidates on stage in Miami were asked whether they would abolish private, for-profit health insurance for a government-run plan, only two raised their hands: Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

After Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) gave a brief defense for an incremental approach and retaining a public option, Warren expressed her support for a government-run plan. The senator, who has been surging in recent weeks, said health care is a human right and declared that she stands with her old friend Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in support of Medicare-for-All. Sanders' supporters in the past have questioned Warren's commitment to the idea. Tim O'Donnell

9:30 p.m.

Julián Castro has a simple pledge for closing the gender pay gap.

Castro, who served as Housing and Urban Development Secretary under former President Barack Obama, was asked at Wednesday's Democratic debate how he would address the gender pay gap. He immediately brought up how his single mother raised him and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and then pledged to "pass the Equal Rights Amendment, finally."

The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was proposed nearly a century ago. It passed the U.S. Senate in 1972 and has slowly made inroads in state legislatures, but has stalled ever since. Kathryn Krawczyk

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